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Letters Public Typography


Photographed, designed, and written by Melissa Meyers

Chapter 1


Chapter 2


Chapter 3


Chapter 4



Starting off I was drawn to the variation of dates and type, as well as how they might correlate. After visiting many cemeteries and taking hundreds of pictures. I realized there is not methodical correlation between date and font selection. There are serifs, sans serifs, and script fonts on headstones dating from the 1800’s, 1900’s, as well as present day.

After realizing this, I started thinking about the variation of type. Each headstone is standing alone, its own unique story. Each story displayed in a variety of ways, thoughful poems, loving inscriptions, or detailed artistic ornamentation. The asthetic value in an aged and weathered headstone is something to be admired.

Religion is an underlying message within every cemetary. You walk in and you are surrounded by multiple religious symbols, crosses, rosery beads and praying hands are just some of the few you come across. The religious figures give a sense of calmness and serinity within the cemetery. I enjoyed visiting each cemetery, it made me feel connected with the past and give me a sense of divine peace.

An inscription must be pleasing and well balanced to the eye. This requires an in depth knowledge of sound typographic principles. -Fergus Wessel


MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY Kansas City, Kansas Established 1865


Mount Hope Cemetery was established in 1865 in Wyandotte County, in Kansas City, Kansas. Its home to some of the burial plots of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The cemetery isn’t arranged in any particular alphabetical or chronological way. Its looks as though its very unkept and poorly managed. Many of the headstones were broken or missing. The weeds and grass were growing out of control and look as though they hadn’t been pulled or cut in a long time. There are many different typographic styles represented in the cemetary as well as many symbols; religious and non-religious.

In order to achieve a good design on stone, the lettering needs to be adapted to the type of stone. For example, if one is carving in slate, there is little difference in the lettering one might use on paper. However, in limestone the letter needs to be chunkier

My FIRST TRIp TO THE CEMETERy WAS different, I felt surprisingly happy for the location where I was. It was a bright day and the sun was ever so slightly peeking through the clouds. I was surrounded by countless headstones, and most were broken and extremely weathered, and though there was a creepy feeling in the air, I didn’t feel nearly as weird as I imagined I would. Mount Hope had a large variation in typefaces. There were many examples of serif, san serif, and script font faces. Most prominent in the area were San Serif, in all capitals. Its due to the era of the cemetery, as well as when most of the headstones are from. In the earlier era of headstone engravings, it was easier to engrave serif fonts into marble, and limestone. Which are the two most common materials used to make headstones.

and more deeply cut, as we rely on the shadow of the v-cut and not colour to see the letters. -Fergus Wessel




Above I saw a headstone that featured a serif font, though the serif is very minimal its still noticable. The engraved ornamentation gracing the top of the headstone takes a simple typeface and gives the headstone a more decorated and ornate look and feel. The combination of the two elements makes the headstone unique.

MOST OF THE HEADSTONES I FOUND IN Mount Hope dated from the early 1900’s or before the 1950’s. They have a unique quality that can’t be duplicated. There was a handmade or man made sense about them, though they may have been etched by machinery. Each stone looks as though it was made with care and has an element of timelessness. Most of the typography I noticed was an elegant combination of raised, engraved, serif, and san serif styles.


Poor spacing can break up a whole inscription; in fact, good letter spacing is more important than the individual letters themselves. There is a big difference between lettering that has been drawn out on stone and lettering that has been carved. -Fergus Wessel

The image to the left features a monument from the early 1900’s with examples of engraved and raised typography. Below is a headstone showing text that has been rasied, meaning the stone around it was chipped or carved away leaving the raised text behind. This headstone dates from before 1900. This technique was very common during this era.



TIME DOES ITS SHARE OF WEAR AND TEAR. The weeds were overgrown and out of control. There were headstones missing, some had been completely knocked down, forgotten about, while nature took its course and overtook them. The weeds looked as though they hadn’t been pulled or managed in years, and the grass was uncut and growing wildly. Headstones were tilting and slanting in all different directions. It looked as though no one was keeping this sacred gorund in order. Many of the headstones had started to weather by earths various elements. There was moss, and discoloration of some of the marble, there were corners of stones chipped off and breaking away. Many of the engravings were so weathered down it was hard to make out their original message.


An inscription on paper or stone can be a beautiful thing to look at, a work of art. It is not the content which interests me most, but the shape and rhythm of the lettering. An inscription must be pleasing and well balanced to the eye. This requires an in-depth knowledge of sound typographic principles. -Unknown


QUINDARO CEMETERY Kansas City, Kansas Established 1874


Quindaro Cemetery was established in 1874 in Wyandotte County, in Kansas City, Kansas. Its a branch of the Mount Hope Cemetery, it was built when the plot of land for the Mount Hope Cemetery was out of space. Its the final resting place for many military men, or post war veterans. It is located next to the Mount Hope Cemetery and sadly was in the same condition. Unlike the Mount Hope Cemetery it featured many headstones from the 1900’s up to recent burials. The Quindaro Cemetery features many varieties of headstone as well as typographic elements represented on each individual grave maker.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. -Winston Churchill QUINDARO CEMETERy HAD A DIFFERENT FEEL The other three cemeteries I took pictures in didn’t give me any strange feelings or creep me out, but Quindaro Cemetery did. There was something darker and erie about the whole atmosphere. There were cars rushing by, so I was never truly alone, but I felt extremely alone in the desolate run down cemetery that is Quindaro.




THE LETTERFORMS IN QUINDARO AND MOUNT HOpE Cemetery were very similar. Due to their proximity and the continuation of the Mount Hope Cemetery into the Quindaro cemetery many of the text choices and letter forms are the same. I saw some variation in the addition of metal enhancements to the headstones, but there was limited metal during that era due to the war. It was likely that the small amounts of metal they did have was not going to be used on headstones unless you were extremely wealthy. One difference I did see was there was more of a use of raised text/lettering in the later years.


Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life. -Eleanor Roosevelt



THE ELEMENTS OF THE EARTH WEAR DOWN THE HEADSTONES The headstones had all seen their fair share of wear and tear. The elements of the earth including water, wind, snow storms, ice, and freezing temperatures. Many of the stones were cracked or cracking, due to the extreme changes in temperature Kansas often experiences. There was calsifying of the limestone, and some on the marble, mostly the calsification was on the limestone due to its porris nature. There was moss growing on some of the flat headstones, and some of typographic presence was lost due to the weathering.


Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows. -Pope Paul VI


MEMORIAL PARK/ OAK HILL CEMETERY Kansas City, Kansas Established 1865


Memorial Park and Oak Hill Cemetery were established after Quantrills Raid in 1863. Survivors in Lawrence yearned for a way to memorialize the lives lost in the attack. In 1864, the mayor suggested the city build a new cemetery since most raid victims were buried in Pioneer Cemetery, which was far from town and hard to maintain. Memorial Park and Oak Hill Cemetery became a place for those who wished to commemorate a terrible day in August 1863.

THE FEELING OF THE pIONEER CEMETERy was better than the other three cemeteries. Its a memorial to the lives lost in Quantrills Raid of 1863. Though it represents an extremely sad time in the history of Lawrence, the cemetery brings a sense of serenity to an extremely bleak topic. I felt a sense of commemoration and happiness walking through the cemetery, instead of it being a reminder of the lives lost, its a celebration and a reminder of the history that has happened in Lawrence. Memorial Park is also home to the monument commemorating the life of the great James Naismith. Known to the community as the “Father of Basketball.”

Quantrill’s famous or infamous raid upon the sleeping town of Lawrence in the predawn hours of August 21, 1863, has been the subject of endless discourse and debate. As the foregoing ballad suggests there were those who regarded Quantrill as a hero and the burning of Lawrence as a good thing. The fact remains, however, that by noon of that fateful day Lawrence resembled a smoking funeral pyre beside the muddy Kaw. Nearly 150 male inhabitants were dead or dying, a large portion of the town’s business and residential districts were in ashes and the faces of those who survived the slaughter bore mute testimony to the tragic scene.




Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. -Steve Jobs


THE LETTERFORMS IN memorial park and oak park were very versital Both of the cemeteries had a variety of letterforms representend on each headstone. There were examples of serif, san serif, and script fonts, as well as mono width. I saw the use of metal to decorate and embellish headstones. Memorial Park featured a moselum, on the moselum there were many different type of metal type. They were mostly mostly metal outlines, there weren’t very many metal plaques with engraved letterforms.

The University of Kansas men’s basketball program officially began in 1898, following Naismith’s arrival, just six years after Naismith penned the sport’s first official rules. Naismith was not initially hired to coach basketball, but rather as a chapel director and physical education instructor. Naismith was, ironically, the only coach in the program’s history to have a losing record (55–60). However, Naismith coached Forrest “Phog” Allen, his eventual successor at Kansas, who went on to join his mentor in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When Allen became a coach himself and told him that he was going to coach basketball at Baker University in 1904, Naismith discouraged him:

“You can’t coach basketball; you just play it.” Instead, Allen embarked on a coaching career that would lead him to be known as “the Father of Basketball Coaching.” During his time at Kansas, Allen coached Dean Smith (1952 National Championship team) and Adolph Rupp (1922 Helms Foundation National Championship team). When Dean Smith retired as head Basketball coach at North Carolina he was the winningest coach in college basketball history, #2 was Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and #3 was Allen. The three coaches have joined Naismith as members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.



THE ELEMENTS OF THE EARTH WEAR DOWN THE HEADSTONES The headstones and gravemarkers here were much better taken care of, the grass was mowed and the weeds looked like they had been tended to recently. Some of the older headstones looked as though they had started to weather and wear with time and elements. Though many of the headstones were newer in the cemetery, even the older ones looked well taken care of and tended to. The moselum was extremely well kept as well, none of the metal had started to rust or showed any signs of severe weathering. The metal was in tact and not degrading in any way.


Nothing is more beautiful than the love that has weathered the storms of life. The love of the young for the young, that is the beginning of life. But the love of the old for the old, that is the beginning of things longer. -Jerome K. Jerome


PIONEER CEMETERY Kansas City, Kansas Established 1854


Pioneer Cemetery on the University of Kansas campus near the Lied was opened in 1854 and has contained the graves of many of those who died in Kansas’ pro slavery / anti-slavery clashes. The dead from the Quantrill’s Raid were first buried here. Although most of the graves were later moved to other cemeteries, at least four gravestones from victims of Quantrill’s Raid remain in the cemetery


When the Kansas Territory was opened to settlement in 1854, abolitionists from New England rushed to the area in an effort to keep the territory from becoming pro slavery. Lawrence, Kansas was founded by the anti-slavery Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society which was formed in 1854 and aided many emigrants to Kansas and Nebraska. Lawrence wasn’t just a destination, but also a center from which the emigrants proceed.

more somber than all the other cemeteries I visted combined. The Lawrence Massacre, also known as Quantrill’s Raid, was a rebel guerrilla attack during the U.S. Civil War by Quantrill’s Raiders, led by William Clarke Quantrill, on the pro-Union town of Lawrence, Kansas. The attack on August 21, 1863, targeted Lawrence due to the town’s long support of abolition and its reputation as a center for Jayhawkers and Redlegs, which were free-state militia and vigilante groups known for attacking and destroying farms and plantations in Missouri’s pro-slavery western counties.

Lawrence grew into an important stop on the Underground Railroad and Kansas Jayhawkers fought several times with pro slavery Bushwhackers from Missouri. One significant local clash was in 1856. Others were further south and involved people like John Brown and his family in places like Osawatomie.



LETTERFORMS THE TYPOGRAPHY FOUND AT PIONEER was different than the three other cemeteries. I noticed an overwhelming number of headstones dating back to the 1800’s, they are decorted with a big combination of serif, san serif, slab serif, bold, and light typography. Though the headstones were broken and hard to read, from what I noticed I saw arched type, engraved lettering, and raised text. The letter forms on these headstones hold an interesting pressence, they add a sense of militarism and personality to the person behind the stone it represents.


Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. -Malcolm X



THE ELEMENTS OF THE EARTH WEAR DOWN THE HEADSTONES The grounds of the Pioneer Cemetery were much better taken care of. The headstones were extremely weathered, but thats to be expected with old type. The headstones almost all date from before 1900, so its easy to understand why they are so weathered and worn down. The limestone on most of the headstones has started to calsify and even crack in some places. The marble on the headstones is cracked and eroded, the dirt from over the years has slowly crept in to fill the missing spaces of the cracks. Lots of the type is so worn you can barely read what is used to say.


I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway. -Anne Frank


Credits Wessel, F. (n.d.). Interview by Naomi Chaple [Personal Interview]. Letters & stone. I Love Typography, Retrieved from

Hacker, J. (2010, OCT 28). Headstones and bereavement. Funeral Times, Retrieved from

Brady, Anne. “Typography Carved In Stone.” Smashing Magazine. 20 Sept 2012: n. page. Print. <>. Think Exist, Online Posting to Finding Quotations was never this Easy!. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. <>. Chow, John. “The Most Important Tool to Help Make the Big Choices in Life.” . John Chow, Web. 7 Nov. 2012. <>. Stark, Douglas. “Dr. James Naismith.” 2007. < php?title=James_Naismith>.

Designer as Author Professor Patrick Dooley The University of Kansas Fall 2012

Letters & Stone  
Letters & Stone  

A book about the public typography within cemetaries in Kansas.